Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NY Times Supports a Soda Tax: Earth Doesn't Stand Still

In what amounts to a dog bites man story, the NY Times came out yesterday in favor of, what else, another tax-this time on soda. The paper, famous for its contempt for the ability of average American to think and act on their own volition, feels that simply hectoring the folks just ain't good enough: "New York City health experts wanted to discourage people from drinking sugary sodas and sports drinks, so they devised a stomach-churning solution. Their new “Don’t drink yourself fat” commercials show drinks being poured into a glass. There is no ice, no delicate frostiness or smiling polar bears. Instead, fat globules ooze over the rim of the glass like some alien life form. If the response is “Yuck,” then the ad is doing its job, city officials have decided."

Not good enough for the meddlesome bien-pensants at the Times: "But so far, neither Mayor Bloomberg nor Gov. David Paterson is ready to make the best move when it comes to soft drinks — a tax on sodas and other sugary beverages. The best tax would be a penny an ounce, not a nickel on every bottle or can, which could just encourage even larger bottles and cans."

Why not simply outlaw the product? And if you're the Times, busy as you are trying to micromanage the health and behavior of others, where exactly do you stop? A Twinkie and ice cream tax? Restrict fast food through zoning and levies? This is the classic slippery slope-and the end result is an intrusive government prescribing acceptable behavior for the unwashed.

Which, in our view, will be the logical result of a government controlled health system with meddlers like Dr. Tom Frieden-a Times folk hero-setting the parameters for the rest of us; all in the name of good health. These cats would be right at home with Rousseau who once said that at times you have to force people to be free.

As one sage commented concerning the seemingly contradictory nature of Rousseau's observation: "I think the most fundamental aspect of Rousseau's philosophy is his understanding of "freedom". He considered this to mean the ability to conform to a rule we have given ourselves (even if we now don't want it). Is an addict more free if you give him open access to the temptation, or if you instead restrict him, thus helping him to achieve his ultimate goal of independence (from the addiction)? The classic example is of Odysseus asking his men to tie him securely to the ship's mast, so that he might resist the lure of the Siren's song. Thus Rousseau's seemingly oxymoronic notion of being "forced to be free" begins to make sense."

The general will, then, devolves from an abstract notion of what is good for all-and people submit to this so they can, like the addict, be restrained from the harm that they might cause themselves. A careful reading of this worldview can reveal just how it might easily lead to a Platonic tyranny-and Marx's question is germane" Who will educate the educator?

And, let us say that the conflation of soda with cigarettes is an invidious one-with no mounting death toll that can be attributed solely to a lethal product in the case of soft drinks. There are an array of factors involved with obesity, and singling out soda-with a job killing and regressive tax-is unfair and won't make any real dent in the so-called epidemic.

But the Times plods on-with only itself leaner thanks to shedding readership-but more and more folks are no longer willing to march in lock step with the philosophy that encourages a greater intrusion of government in our everyday lives. We sense a sea change in the works-and, if so, it will be the Times that is swept out with the tide.